Robert Naylor.

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so fresh in our minds, and bodies, that we decided to rest our still
weary limbs here for the night, even though we had that day only walked
six miles, the shortest walk in all our journey.


Our host, Mr. Forster, was moreover a very entertaining and remarkable
man. He had been parish clerk for many years, a Freemason for upwards of
thirty years, letter-carrier or postman for fourteen years, and recently
he and his wife had joined the Good Templars! He had many interesting
stories of the runaway marriages at Gretna Green, a piece of Borderland
neither in Scotland nor England, and he claimed to have suggested the
Act of Parliament brought in by Lord Brougham to abolish these so-called
"Scotch" marriages by a clause which required twenty-one days' residence
before the marriage could be solemnised, so that although the Act was
called Lord Brougham's Act, he said it was really his. Its effects were
clearly demonstrated in a letter he had written, which appeared in the
Registrar-General's Report, of which he showed us a copy, stating that
while in the year 1856, the year of the passing of Lord Brougham's Act,
there were 757 marriages celebrated in the district of Gretna Green,
thirty-nine entered as taking place in one day, November 8th, in the
following year there were only thirty and in the next forty-one, showing
conclusively that the Act had been effectual. We could have listened
longer to our host's stories, but we had to rise early next morning to
make up for our loss of mileage, and retired early to make up for our
loss of sleep on the previous night.

(_Distance walked six miles_.)

_Friday, October 13th._

We left Longtown at 7.30 a.m. by the long and wide thoroughfare which
gives rise to its name, and followed the Carlisle road until we turned
to the right for Gretna Green. Our road lay between Solway Moss and the
River Esk, to both of which some historic events were attached. Solway
Moss is about seven miles in circumference, and is covered with grass
and rushes, but it shakes under the least pressure, and will swallow up
nearly anything. In 1776, after heavy rains, it burst, and, as in
Ireland, streams of black peaty mud began to creep over the plain and to
overwhelm the houses. It was the scene of a battle fought on November
24th, 1542, when the English Army under Sir Thomas Wharton defeated a
Scottish Army of 10,000 men, who were either killed, drowned, or taken
prisoners. One of the unfortunates was unearthed in later times by
peat-diggers, a man on his horse, who had sunk in the bog. The skeletons
were well preserved, and the different parts of the armour easily
recognisable. The disastrous result of this battle so affected James V,
King of Scotland, that he is said to have died of a broken heart.
Personally, we thought he deserved a greater punishment for the murder
of Johnnie Armstrong and his followers twelve years before this event,
for Armstrong was just the man who could and would have protected the

The River Esk was associated with Prince Charlie, who, with his
soldiers, had to cross it when retreating before the army of the Duke of
Cumberland. It was a difficult operation to carry out, as the usually
shallow ford had been converted by the melting snow into a swift-flowing
current four feet deep. The cavalry were drawn up in two lines across
the stream, one to break the current and the other to prevent any of the
foot-soldiers being washed away as they crossed the river between the
two lines of cavalry. Lower down the river still were Prince Charlie and
his officers, who were better mounted than the others. The foot-soldiers
walked arm-in-arm, with their heads barely above the water, making the
space between the cavalry lines to look as if it were set with
paving-stones. One poor soldier lost his hold on his comrade and was
washed down the river, and would certainly have been drowned had not the
Prince seized him by the hair, and, shouting in Gaelic for help, held on
until both of them were rescued. After being hunted in the Highland
glens for months with a ransom of £30,000 placed on his head - not a Celt
betraying his whereabouts - by the help of Flora Macdonald Prince Charlie
escaped to Brittany, and finally died at Rome in the arms of the Master
of Nairn in 1788. In 1794 the Beds of Esk, a large sandbank where the
tide meets the stream, presented an unusual spectacle, and a striking
tribute to the dangerous character of the river especially when in
flood. Collected together on the beach were a varied assortment of
animals and human beings, consisting of no less than 9 black cattle, 3
horses, 1,040 sheep, 45 dogs, 180 hares, many smaller animals, and 3
human beings, all of whom had been cut off by the rapidly advancing

Many other events have happened in this neighbourhood, one of the most
sensational perhaps being the death of King Edward I, "The Hammer of the
Scots," also nicknamed "Longshanks," from the length of his lower limbs,
who died in 1307 on these marshes, requesting his effeminate son, the
Prince of Wales, as he bade him farewell, not to bury his body until the
Scots were utterly subdued, but this wish was prevented by the defeat at
the Battle of Bannockburn.

We passed by some large peat-fields, and, crossing the River Sark, were
once more in Scotland, notwithstanding the fact that we had so recently
given three cheers as we passed out of it. We traversed the length of
Springfield, a stone-built village of whitewashed, one-storied cottages,
in which we could see handloom weavers at work, nearly fifty of them
being employed in that industry. Formerly, we were told, the villagers
carried on an illicit commerce in whisky and salt, on which there were
heavy duties in England, but none on whisky in Scotland. The position
here being so close to the borders, it was a very favourable one for
smuggling both these articles into England, and we heard various
exciting stories of the means they devised for eluding the vigilance of
the excise officers. As we passed through the neighbourhood at a quick
rate, the villagers turned out to have a look at us, evidently thinking
something important was going on.

We saw many workers in the fields, who called out to us hinting about
the nature of our journey, as we travelled towards Gretna Green. Some of
the women went so far as to ask us if we wanted any company. The most
conspicuous objects in the village were the church and the remarkably
high gravestones standing like sentinels in the churchyard. Bonnie
Prince Charlie arrived here on the afternoon of his birthday in 1745,
stabling his horse in the church, while the vicar fled from what he
described in the church book as "the Rebels." A small cottage - said to
be the oldest in Gretna - is shown in which Prince Charlie slept. The
village green appeared to us as if it had been fenced in and made into
a garden, and a lady pointed out an ancient-looking building, which she
said was the hall where the original "Blacksmith" who married the
runaway couples resided, but which was now occupied by a gentleman from
Edinburgh. She explained the ceremony as being a very simple one, and
performed expeditiously: often in the road, almost in sight of the
pursuers of the runaway pair. All sorts and conditions of men and women
were united there, some of them from far-off lands, black people amongst
the rest, and she added with a sigh, "There's been many an unhappy job
here," which we quite believed. There were other people beside the
gentleman at the hall who made great profit by marrying people, both at
Springfield and Gretna, and a list of operators, dated from the year
1720, included a soldier, shoemaker, weaver, poacher, innkeeper,
toll-keeper, fisherman, pedlar, and other tradesmen. But the only
blacksmith who acted in that capacity was a man named Joe Paisley, who
died in 1811 aged seventy-nine years. His motto was, "Strike while the
iron's hot," and he boasted that he could weld the parties together as
firmly as he could one piece of iron to another.

[Illustration: JOSEPH PAISLEY, The Celebrated Gretna-Green Parson Dec'd
January 9, 1811, aged 79. The first great "priest" of Gretna Green.]

Joe was a man of prodigious strength; he could bend a strong iron poker
over his arm, and had frequently straightened an ordinary horse-shoe in
its cold state with his hands. He could also squeeze the blood from the
finger ends of any one who incurred his anger. He was an habitual
drunkard, his greatest boast being that he had once been "teetotal" for
a whole forenoon. When he died he was an overgrown mass of superfluous
fat, weighing at least twenty-five stone. He was said to have earned
quite a thousand pounds per year by his encroachments into the province
of the cleric, and when on his deathbed he heard three carriages arrive,
he consented to marry the three wealthy couples they contained, and
found himself two or three hundred pounds richer than before. He also
boasted that the marriage business had been in his family for quite one
hundred years, and that his uncle, the old soldier Gordon, used to marry
couples in the full uniform of his regiment, the British Grenadiers. He
gave a form of certificate that the persons had declared themselves to
be single, that they were married by the form of the Kirk of Scotland,
and agreeably to that of the Church of England.

[Illustration: GRETNA GREEN.]

One of the most celebrated elopements to Gretna was that of the Earl of
Westmorland and Miss Child, the daughter of the great London banker. The
earl had asked for the hand of Sarah, and had been refused, the banker
remarking, "Your blood is good enough, but my money is better," so the
two young people made it up to elope and get married at Gretna Green.
The earl made arrangements beforehand at the different stages where they
had to change horses, but the banker, finding that his daughter had
gone, pursued them in hot haste. All went well with the runaway couple
until they arrived at Shap, in Westmorland, where they became aware they
were being pursued. Here the earl hired all the available horses, so as
to delay the irate banker's progress. The banker's "money was good,"
however, and the runaways were overtaken between Penrith and Carlisle.
Hero the earl's "blood was good," for, taking deliberate aim at the
little star of white on the forehead of the banker's leading horse, he
fired successfully, and so delayed the pursuit that the fugitives
arrived at Gretna first; and when the bride's father drove up, purple
with rage and almost choking from sheer exasperation, he found them
safely locked in what was called the bridal chamber! The affair created
a great sensation in London, where the parties were well known, heavy
bets being made as to which party would win the race. At the close of
the market it stood at two to one on the earl and the girl.

In those days "postboys" were employed to drive the runaways from the
hotels at Carlisle to Gretna, one of the most noted of whom was Jock
Ainslie, on the staff of the "Bush Inn" at Carlisle. On one occasion he
was commissioned to drive a runaway couple, who had just arrived by the
coach from London, to Gretna, but when they got as far as Longtown they
insisted they were tired and must stay for dinner before going forward,
so they sent Jock back. He returned to Carlisle rather reluctantly,
advising the runaways to lose no time. But when he got back to the "Bush
Inn" he saw the mother of the lady whom he had left at Longtown drive up
to the hotel door accompanied by a Bow Street officer. While they were
changing horses, Jock went to the stable, saddled a horse, rode off to
Longtown, and told his patrons what he had seen. They immediately
hurried into a chaise, but had not gone far before they heard the
carriage wheels of their pursuers. Jock Ainslie was quite equal to the
occasion, and drove the chaise behind a thick bush, whence the pair had
the satisfaction of seeing "Mamma" hurry past at full speed in pursuit.
While she was continuing her search on the Annan Road, Jock quietly
drove into Springfield and had his patrons "hitched up" without further
delay, and doubtless was well rewarded for his services.

[Illustration: WILLIE LANG The last of the "Lang" line of priests.]

It seemed a strange thing that Lord Brougham, who brought in the famous
Act, should himself have taken advantage of a "Scotch" marriage, and
that two other Lord Chancellors, both celebrated men, should have acted
in the same manner; Lord Eldon, the originator of the proverb -

New brooms sweep clean,

was married at Gretna, and Lord Erskine at Springfield. Marriage in this
part of Scotland had not the same religious significance as elsewhere,
being looked upon as more in the nature of a civil contract than a
religious ceremony. The form of marriage was almost entirely a secular
matter, and if a man and woman made a declaration before two witnesses
that they were single persons and had resided twenty-one days in
Scotland, they were considered as being man and wife. At the point where
the Black Esk and White Esk Rivers join, a remarkable custom called
"Handfasting" prevailed hundreds of years ago. Here, at a place known
as Handfasting Hough, young men and women assembled in great numbers and
made matrimonial engagements by joining hands. The marriage was only
binding for one year, but if both parties were then satisfied, the
"handfasting" was continued for life. King Robert II of Scotland, it was
said, was one of those who was "hand-fasted" there.

[Illustration: (Facsimile of Lord Erskine's signature.)]

[Illustration: SPRINGFIELD TOLL.]

We now left Gretna, still single, for Carlisle, nine and a half miles
away, the distance to Glasgow in the opposite direction being
eighty-five miles. We recrossed the River Sark, the boundary here
between Scotland and England, the famous tollbar through which eloping
couples had to hurry before they could reach Gretna Green. In those days
gangs of men were ever on the watch to levy blackmail both on the
pursued and their pursuers, and the heaviest purse generally won when
the race was a close one. We saw a new hotel on the English side of the
river which had been built by a Mr. Murray specially for the
accommodation of the runaways while the "Blacksmith" was sent for to
join them together on the other side of the boundary, but it had only
just been finished when Lord Brougham's Act rendered it practically
useless, and made it a bad speculation for Mr. Murray. Passing through
the tollgate we overtook a man with half a dozen fine greyhounds, in
which, after our conversation with the owner of the racing dog at
Canonbie Collieries, we had become quite interested; and we listened to
his description of each as if we were the most ardent dog-fanciers on
the road. One of the dogs had taken a first prize at Lytham and another
a second at Stranraer. We passed through a country where there were
immense beds of peat, hurrying through Todhilis without even calling at
the "Highland Laddie" or the "Jovial Butcher" at Kingstown, and we
crossed the River Eden as we entered the Border city of Carlisle,
sometimes called "Merrie Carlisle," or, as the Romans had it, Lugovalum.

An elderly gentleman whom we overtook, and of whom we inquired
concerning the objects of interest to be seen, appeared to take more
interest in business matters than in those of an antiquarian nature, for
he told us that "Carr's Biscuit Manufactory" with its machinery was a
far finer sight than either the cathedral or the castle. Perhaps he was
right, but our thoughts were more in the direction of bygone ages, with
the exception of the letters that were waiting for us at the post
office, and for which we did not forget to call. Merrie Carlisle, we
were informed, was the chief residence of King Arthur, whose supposed
ghostly abode and that of his famous knights, or one of them, we had
passed earlier in the week. We were now told that near Penrith, a town
to the south of Carlisle, there was still to be seen a large circle
surrounded by a mound of earth called "Arthur's Round Table," and that
in the churchyard were the giants' graves.

In the very old ballad on the "Lothely Lady" King Arthur was described
as returning after a long journey to his Queen Guenevere, in a very sad

And there came to him his cozen, Sir Gawain,
Y' was a courteous Knight;
Why sigh you soe sore, Unkle Arthur, he said,
Or who hath done thee unright?

Arthur told him he had been taken prisoner by a fierce, gigantic chief,
who had only released him and spared his life on condition that he would
return and pay his ransom on New Year's Day, the ransom being that he
must tell the giant "that which all women most desire." When the morning
of the day arrived, Arthur was in great despair, for nearly all the
women he had asked had given him different answers, but he was in honour
bound to give himself up; and as he rode over the moors he saw a lady
dressed in scarlet, sitting between an oak and a green holly. Glancing
at her, Arthur saw the most hideous woman he had ever seen.

Then there as shold have stood her mouth,
Then there was sett her e'e,
The other was in her forhead fast,
The way that she might see.
Her nose was crooked, and turned outward,
Her mouth stood foul awry;
A worse formed lady than she was,
Never man saw with his eye.

King Arthur rode on and pretended not to see her, but she called him
back and said she could help him with his ransom. The King answered, "If
you can release me from my bond, lady, I shall be grateful, and you
shall marry my nephew Gawain, with a gold ring." Then the lothely lady
told Arthur that the thing all women desired was "to have their own
way." The answer proved to be correct, and Arthur was released; but the
"gentle Gawain" was now bound by his uncle's promise, and the "lothely
lady" came to Carlisle and was wedded in the church to Gawain. When
they were alone after the ceremony she told him she could be ugly by day
and lovely by night, or _vice versa_, as he pleased, and for her sake,
as she had to appear amongst all the fine ladies at the Court, he begged
her to appear lovely by day. Then she begged him to kiss her, which with
a shudder he did, and immediately the spell cast over her by a
witch-step mother was broken, and Gawain beheld a young and lovely
maiden. She was presented to Arthur and Guenevere, and was no longer a
"lothely" lady. Then the ballad goes on:

King Arthur beheld the lady faire,
That was soe faire and bright;
He thanked Christ in Trinity,
For Sir Gawain, that gentle Knight.

King Arthur's table was supposed to have been made round for the same
reason that John o' Groat's was made octagonal - to avoid jealousy
amongst his followers.


We visited the cathedral, which had suffered much in the wars, but in
the fine east window some very old stained glass remained, while parts
of the building exhibit the massive columns and circular arches typical
of the Norman architect. Here, in the presence of King Edward I and his
Parliament, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was excommunicated by
the Papal Legate for the murder of the Red Comyn in the Church of the
Minorite Friars in Dumfries. Here, too, Sir Walter Scott was married to
Charlotte Carpenter in the presence of Jane Nicholson and John Bird on
December 29th, 1797. Sir Walter was touring in the Lake District in July
of that year, and while staying at Gilsland Wells he first saw a
fascinating and elegant young lady, the daughter of Jean Charpentier of
Lyons, then under the charge of the Rev. John Bird, a Minor Canon of
Carlisle Cathedral. She was described, possibly by Sir Walter himself,
as being rich in personal attractions, with a form fashioned as light as
a fairy's, a complexion of the clearest and finest Italian brown, and a
profusion of silken tresses as black as the raven's wing. A humorous
savant wrote the following critique on this description of the beauty of
Sir Walter's fiancée:

It is just possible the rascal had been reading some of the old Welsh
stories collected in the twelfth century and known as the Mabinogion
stories. In one Oliven is described so -

"More yellow was her head than the yellow of the broom, and her skin
was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were her hands and
her fingers than the blossoms of the wood anemone amidst the sprays
of the meadow fountain. The eye of the trained hawk, the glance of
the three-mewed falcon was not brighter than hers. Her bosom was more
snowed than the heart of the white swan; her cheek was redder than
the reddest roses."


Or again, both of the love-stricken swains may have dipped, into the
_Arabian Nights_, where imagination and picture painting runs riot.

There was no doubt that Scott fell deeply in love with her, so much so
that a friend whom he visited in 1797 wrote that "Scott was 'sair'
beside himself about Miss Carpenter and that they toasted her twenty
times over and raved about her until one o'clock in the morning." Sir
Walter seemed to have acted in his courtship on the old north-country
adage, "Happy is the wooing that is not long a-doing," for he was
married to her three months afterwards. The whole details are carefully
preserved in local tradition. The River Irthing runs through Gilsland,
and at the foot of the cliffs, which rise go feet above the river, were
the Sulphur Wells. Near these, on the bank of the river, was a large
stone named the "Popping Stone," where it was said that Sir Walter Scott
"popped the question," and all who can get a piece of this stone, which,
by the way, is of a very hard nature, and place it under the pillow at
night, will dream of their future partners. The hotel people tell a good
story of a gentleman, an entire stranger to the district, who went in
company with a lady who knew the neighbourhood to see the famous stone.
After walking for some distance they were passing a stone, when the
gentleman asked, "Is this the popping stone?" "No," answered his fair
companion, "but any large stone will do."

Near the stone there was a bush called the "Kissing Bush," where Sir
Walter was said to have sealed the sweet compact when the temperature
was only "two in the shade."

Oh happy love! where Love like this is found!
Oh heartfelt raptures! Bliss beyond compare!
I've paced much this weary mortal round,
If Heaven a draught of Heavenly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
'Tis when a youthful loving modest pair
In other's arms breathe out the tender tale
Beneath the "Kissing Bush" that scents the evening gale.

[Illustration: CARLISLE CASTLE]

John Wesley visited Carlisle and preached there on several occasions.
Rabbie Burns, too, after the publication of the first edition of his
poems, visited it in 1786, patronising the "Malt Shovel Inn," where, as
he wrote, "he made a night of it."

We paid a hurried visit to the castle on the summit of a sharp aclivity
overlooking the River Eden, in whose dungeons many brave men have been
incarcerated, where we saw a dripping-or dropping-stone worn smooth, it
was said, by the tongues of thirsty prisoners to whom water was denied.
The dropping was incessant, and we were told a story which seems the
refinement of cruelty, in which the water was allowed to drop on a
prisoner's head until it killed him. From the castle mound we could see
the country for a long distance, and there must have been a good view of
the Roman wall in ancient times, as the little church of Stanwix we had
passed before crossing the River Eden was built on the site of a Roman
station on Hadrian's Wall, which there crossed the river on low arches.
The wall was intended to form the boundary between England and Scotland,
and extended for seventy miles, from Bowness-on-the-Solway to
Wallsend-on-the-Tyne, thus crossing the kingdom at its narrowest part.

We left Carlisle at a speed of four miles per hour, and within the hour
we had our first near view of the Cumberland Hills, Scawfell being the
most conspicuous. We decided to go to Maryport, however, as we heard
that a great number of Roman altars had recently been discovered there.
We were now once more in England, with its old-fashioned villages, and
at eleven miles from Carlisle we reached Wigton, whose streets and
footpaths were paved with boulders and cobble-stones; here we stayed for
refreshments. A further eight-miles' walk, some portion of it in the

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 23 of 66)